I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dango Gasshodan -- Dango San Kyodai (だんご3兄弟)

Now and then, I did have my taste of the Japanese dessert delicacy of dango skewered on a stick and covered in sweet sauce when I walked through areas such as Asakusa, although my sweet tooth allegiances will always gravitate toward apple pie or a slice of Black Forest. Having said that, for a period of several months at the end of the 20th century, there was no way I could avoid dango. And this song was the cause.

"Dango San Kyodai" (The Three Dumpling Brothers) was the viral earworm of the year, even before the term existed officially. And it's the second example I've come across that a cute little ditty about a Japanese confection became a 10-tonne cultural monster. First, to give credit where it's due, let me show you the full cast behind this Dango Tango (I only put in just the one group up in the heading since I wanted to save on space): there is the Dango Gasshodan, the Himawari Kids, and then on the lead vocals, Kentaro Hayami(速水けんたろう)and Ayumi Shigemori(茂森あゆみ).

Originally created by commercial ad planner Masahiko Sato and Masumi Uchino(佐藤雅彦・内野真澄)for the children's program, "Okaasan to Issho" (おかあさんといっしょ....With Mother) on NHK Educational (Channel 3) in January 1999, "Dango San Kyodai" soon took a life of its own beyond its parameters, reminiscent of another song about another Japanese sweet, "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun"(およげ!たいやきくん) from almost a quarter-century previously which made Japanese music history and became the most successful song of the Oricon charts. Just like that sweet bean paste-filled pastry shaped like a fish, the Dango Brothers became a runaway hit. Released as a single later in March, it debuted at No. 1 with over a million copies sold already. Eventually, it would sell just a tad under 3 million CDs, becoming the No. 1 single of 1999, beating out multiple hits by wunderkind Hikaru Utada(宇多田ヒカル) and the rock group GLAY. There was some anticipation that "Dango San Kyodai" could even reach the nosebleed heights of "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun" but the Dango Brothers only stayed at the top spot for 3 weeks whereas "Taiyaki" held an iron grip at No. 1 for almost 3 months! Still, "Dango San Kyodai" earned a slew of music awards, and still holds the spot as the 4th best-selling single in Oricon history.

Of course, on a cultural level, I'm sure sales of dango went through the proverbial thatched roof. Apparently, even the configuration of the skewered dumplings underwent a slight alteration thanks to the song. A skewer usually holds 4 of the dango, but during the "Dango San Kyodai" boom, the dango makers decided to take away that one extra dumpling for the kiddies.

My appreciation for dango didn't particularly improve, but now I know that if I ever order a plate of the stuff again, there will always be that accordion playing the theme song in my head.

Hiromi Iwasaki -- Azayaka na Bamen (あざやかな場面)

I started the month with a Hiromi Iwasaki(岩崎宏美)song, why not end it with one as well? One of the commenters also pointed out this lovely tune. I first heard "Azayaka na Bamen"(Vibrant Scenery) on a BEST tape of the singer that I got back in the mid-80s. It was originally released as Iwasaki's 13th single in May 1978.

I was surprised to read on J-Wiki that this was the tune that stopped Iwasaki's winning streak of 11 consecutive songs to break into the Top 10, going all the way back to her breakthrough single of "Romance" in 1975. It didn't even break into the Top 100 of 1978 although it did peak at No. 14 on the Oricon weeklies. A pity, since I think the country waltz nature of the song (composed by Takashi Miki...三木たかし) continued the early image of Hiromi-chan as this fresh-faced young girl with the incredible voice. Perhaps it was a case of Iwasaki Fatigue from the listening public. I'd always imagined her singing this song against a backdrop of green grass just looking out over into the ocean, and sure enough, Yu Aku's(阿久悠)lyrics invited the listener to close his/her eyes and remember a much-cherished scene from way back. For me, that would've been my grandfather's village in Wakayama Prefecture right by the sea.

The interesting part of "Azayaka na Bamen" was the ending. For a little over 3 minutes, the song gently made its way across the countryside when suddenly with a flourish of strings, Iwasaki went into an epic "La, la, la" while a drum rat-a-tatted things off. A country waltz changed into a military hero sendoff.

Spitz -- Namida ga Kirari (涙がキラリ☆)

Next to Spitz's "Cherry", "Namida ga Kirari"(Tears Are Glittering) is the song that I know the most when it comes to the band. I've always loved the refrain for this one. It was not only getting lots of exposure on TV, including being the opening theme for TBS' late-night ranking program "CDTV" for a while, and it was also used as the campaign song for the Sharp MD (remember Mini-Discs?)

Written and composed by the lead vocalist, Masamune Kusano(草野正宗) as its 12th single, "Namida ga Kirari" was released on July 7 1995. I'm being more exact with my date here since there is the issue of that star at the end of the title. According to J-Wiki, the members appreciated the Tanabata Star Festival, which came on every July 7th, more than Christmas, so the star was put up to commemorate that fact, and that was probably the reason behind the release date. And if we go by the Japanese year system by reigning emperor, the song was released on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 7th year of Heisei (平成7年7月7日).

The song went Triple Platinum in Japan, selling over a million copies. It reached No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies and ended the year as the 30th-ranked song. It has stayed one of my memory songs of my early years in Ichikawa.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Akina Nakamori -- Solitude

I've always thought this song got relatively short shrift when compared to the really big hits such as "Mi Amore", "Kazari Ja Nai No Yo Namida Wa" and "Desire". I mean, "Solitude" was the lowest-ranking of the 5 songs that the singer had in the Oricon Top 50 of 1985 (No. 35, at that), but even so when I discovered its position on the charts, I kinda wished it had scored even higher. I guess when compared to its more high-energy counterparts, "Solitude" was a bit laid-back, but that is its charm.

Akina Nakamori's(中森明菜)13th single is a cool and cooling song, something to be heard in the high towers of Tokyo (most likely Shinjuku or Odaiba) at night while nursing that drink, although the first line in Reiko Yukawa's(湯川れい子) lyrics talks about Akina cutting her nails by the 25th-floor emergency exit with the wind at her back. Nah....the song sounds too sophisticated for that....definitely not aidoru, that's for sure. The surprise for me is that the urban melody....a movement that reminds me of something that Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)or a solo Kazumasa Oda(小田和正) would write...was composed by Yukihide Takekawa(タケカワユキヒデ), the lead vocal for 70s folk/rock group Godiego(ゴダイゴ). But then again, Oda also came from those roots as well, and when I think of late 80s/early 90s urban contemporary J-Pop, he's one of the go-to guys.

I also like the way Akina sings "Solitude". Her voice sounds soft and enticing, and the way it seems to weave to and fro, I can imagine the singer was doing the same thing during the recording. Idid have the above video from her "Bitter & Sweet" concert which I've got somewhere on a tape since she's decked out in that spooky ballerina outfit (probably emulating that famous statue of a ballerina in a museum near you). But of course, it got taken down so I've got the replacement video from an appearance on "Yoru no Hit Studio"

"Solitude" was released in September 1985, and hit the top spot on Oricon. As mentioned, it ended up as the 35th-ranked song of the year.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Akemi Ishii - JOY

"JOY" is Akemi Ishii's(石井明美) 4th single released in July 1987 as a theme song for a Fuji-TV romantic drama. And it also happens to be her first single that doesn't have that Latin's a straight mid-tempo pop song. Written by Tetsuya Chiaki(ちあき哲也) and composed by Kyohei Tsutsumi(筒美京平), despite the uplifting title and the happy melody, the lyrics take things into Charlie Brown-ville once more as Ishii sings about a wistfully resigned person affected by that familiar trope of kataomoi (unrequited love). To her, it's OK to have everything remain a dream, to just remain friends, just to have that occasional drink, and to cry alone. AAUGH! That Little Red-Haired Girl (or Boy) must seem even farther away now.

"JOY" was also the title of Ishii's 2nd album which was released in August of that year. I came across it in the mail-order section of an old issue of "Eye-Ai", and hearing her first few singles, I decided to draft one of my first money drafts and get the CD. Ahhhh.....those early pre-Amazon years; I actually wrote on a slip of paper to buy a Japanese disc.

Thanks again to

Yumi Arai/Ayaka Hirahara -- Banka (晩夏)

I might be writing about "Banka"(Late Summer) a few months too early, but I think I can swallow my pride here. This was the final track on Yumi Arai's(荒井由実) marvelous album, "The 14th Moon" (1976), and it has that feeling of satisfying finality for me (although I'd like to know if Yuming herself would agree). After some of the bouncy tunes on the album, the singer finished it off with a quiet ballad with that late-sunset glow. I could imagine a baritone announcer during the last few notes intoning that we've all come to the end of our broadcasting day....time for sleep.

But that satisfying finality didn't just refer to the album, but also to the first stage of her career. In a way, "Banka" was that signoff to Yumi Arai. Afterwards, she would become Yumi Matsutoya(松任谷由実), after marrying her producer and fellow musician, Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆), and eventually go into a poppier direction.

But the first time I ever heard of "Banka" was actually through Ayaka Hirahara's(平原綾香) cover of it several years ago. I had heard of Hirahara via her hit debut, "Jupiter" back in 2003, but didn't buy a CD of hers until I saw her cover of the Yuming classic on an episode of "Bokura no Ongaku"僕らの音楽...Our Music), the Fuji-TV Friday night music program. I just found that her mellow voice fit the melody so well, and the producer/arranger of this version was none other than Masataka Matsutoya, who added an instrumental bridge. For the video above which seemed to have come from an NHK show, the bridge was covered by a jazzy guitar, but I prefer the version that was on "Bokura no Ongaku" and on the official single version....a nice group of horns. It was from this version of the song which led me to track down and buy "The 14th Moon".

Hirahara's cover was the singer's 9th single, released in September 2005, which reached as high as No. 16 on Oricon. It was also the first track of her 3rd album and an album of covers, "From...To", released in November of that year. In that album, Hirahara covered everyone from Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵) to Koji Tamaki(玉置浩二). The album peaked at No. 4.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Masanori Sera & Twist -- Moero Ii Onna (燃えろいい女)

I first heard "Moero Ii Onna" (Get Excited, Good Girl) years ago on the Fuji-TV Thursday night comedy-variety show hosted by The Tunnels when they did a hilarious parody of "Terminator 2". Taller and crazier Takaaki Ishibashi(石橋貴明), in Arnie's role, broke character (as he usually does) to playfully "attack" actress-model Miyuki Ono(小野みゆき), who was playing Sarah Connor while singing the song in question. Several years previously, Ono had been the campaign girl for Shiseido's summer commercial for which "Moero Ii Onna" was the song selected.

Now, getting to the originator of the song, I mentioned about Masanori Sera(世良公則) when I did a profile on "Wakare no Asa"別れの朝)a few months ago. I've known him more as an actor, notably via his small role as a city doctor in the NHK morning serial "Ume-chan Sensei" last year, but then I came across the above video performing "Moero Ii Onna". He was one scary looking dude with those eyes, but I could see that he had oodles of charisma....perfect for rock. And he did a good job lyrically lusting for that summer girl.

"Moero Ii Onna" was the band's 5th single released in April 1979. As indicated, it was written and composed by Sera, and it managed to peak at No. 3. For the year, it finished in the 25th position with just a little over 400,000 records sold.

As for the story behind the band, during his high school days in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Sera had joined a band called FBI which consequently moved to Osaka to progress their career. At the same time, the band's name was changed to Twist(ツイスト). However, the lead vocal at the time was getting hammered critically, so it was decided that he and Sera (who had been on bass) would switch roles. Then, in 1977, when the members were about to graduate from university and break up the band, it was entered into the Yamaha Popular Song Contest (Popcorn). Sera, who was the sole member who wanted the band to go pro, loaded the deck by making another name change to "Masanori Sera & Twist". They performed "Anta no Ballad"あんたのバラード....Your Ballad), and like a Cinderella story, they earned the Grand Prix of the contest, and a month later, the song would be given its release as Twist's official debut single. Popcorn had been known for a lot of folk bands participating but with Twist's success in that October, the number of rock acts entering the contest increased.

Yasuko Kuwata -- My Joyful Heart

My knowledge of the vast ocean of aidoru in the 1980s is very much restricted to the surface, so it's always great when I come across a very pleasant and nostalgic song for the first time (as somewhat oxymoronic as that may sound). For today, that is Yasuko Kuwata's(桑田靖子) "My Joyful Heart", which I found through YouTube.

The Fukuoka-born Kuwata (real name: Saeko Ikeda) debuted as an aidoru in 1983 with "Datsu Platonic"脱・プラトニック....De-Platonic), along with contemporaries such as Maiko Ito(伊藤麻衣子) and Hiromi Koide(小出広美), and attended Tokyo's celeb-filled Horikoshi High School in which her dokyusei (year-mates) included Yukiko Okada(岡田由希子), Yoko Minamino(南野陽子) and Minako Honda(本田美奈子). Her 4th single, released in January 1984, was "My Joyful Heart", written and composed by Etsuko and Takao Kisugi(来生えつこ・たかお). Just my bias, but there is something about songs created by the Kisugi siblings that kicks them up a notch in terms of listenability.

Since I've only encountered this song just in the last hour, if there's anyone out there who has some deeper comments about Ms. Kuwata or even this particular song, please let me know.

Ken Matsudaira -- MatsuKen Samba II (マツケンサンバ II)

Truly...only in Japan. Edo Era characters are dressed in day-glo kimono surrounding their burly leader who looks like what Liberace would've been as a shogun....and all singing and dancing to a samba beat. Such is the magic of MatsuKen Samba! Like many others, the emerging popularity of actor/singer Ken Matsudaira's(松平健) musical tour de force caught me off-guard during the 2000s. My interest in watching jidaigeki (Japanese historical dramas) had largely disappeared since watching those old "Mito Komon"episodes at the Toronto Buddhist Church decades ago, so I never caught Matsudaira's seminal role as the Abarenbo Shogun, but whenever I heard his name, I would automatically think, "Oh, that samurai actor". And when I think of samurai performances, I always envision stoic and serious on a Clint Eastwood level. So, you can imagine seeing that same actor prancing about on stage in a taking-it-home show tune.

Ken Matsudaira's acting career started in the early 1970s and his musical one launched in 1980. For the latter career, there were some tongue-in-cheek titles over the years such as "MatsuKen Ondo"(1984) and "MatsuKen Mambo"(1987). But it looks like his dalliance with his nickname tunes started reaching a critical mass with the "MatsuKen Samba I" in 1992, followed by the sequel, "MatsuKen Samba II"(written by Kyoko Yoshimine[吉峰暁子] and composed by Akira Miyagawa[宮川彬良]) in 1994. Then came a revisitation to that latter song via "MatsuKen Samba II...2004 Version" a decade later. All these songs were traditionally sung at the end of his concerts, so initially it seemed as if only middle-aged ladies were the recipients, but the sight of the usually cool-as-a-kyuri actor letting go of his inner showman was too much for the mass media to ignore, and so, Matsudaira and his band of merry dancers took it on the road via many TV programs. And thus, a legend was born.

The above video has Matsudaira performing the first two versions and "MatsuKen Samba III" which came out in 2005. If I'm not mistaken, he also performed No. 2 on one of the recent Kohaku Utagassen....I mean, something as grand as the Kohaku had to have him perform it!

And speaking of "Abarenbo Shogun"暴れん坊将軍...The Bold Shogun), you can take a look at the opening credits.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Yoko Oginome -- You're My Life

In my club at the University of Toronto, we had one fellow from Japan on a working-holiday visa for about a year who became our perennial life of the party. His English ability, at least initially, was not so good, but he had this adorable quality and energy that had us all liking him (and no, Toronto Blue Jays wasn't Munenori Kawasaki). Humorously, our friend picked up some cornball romantic lines which he used on some of the female members in our group. After one night at The Copa, he yelled one such line at one of our chief members, "YOU'RE MY LIFE!!!"

Little did I know that a couple of years later, I would be hearing those words again in a Yoko Oginome(荻野目洋子)song. My enjoyment of Oginome tunes started and matured all here in Toronto, so listening to "You're My Life", her 19th single from September 1989, was my first song to hear from her in Japan itself. Words and music were by James Christian (with Japanese lyrics by Masao Urino[売野雅勇]), and the sound had that different feel to it when compared to some of her earlier hits. Instead of the disco that we heard from songs like "Dancing Hero" and "Roppongi Junjoha"六本木純情派), there was more pop/rock in "You're My Life", and Oginome's vocals were fairly booming.

Strangely enough, according to J-Wiki, Oginome's cover wasn't the first cover....aidoru Miyoko Yoshimoto(芳本美代子) had done an earlier version with different lyrics on her 1987 album, "Yesterday's".

The song got as high as No. 10 on the Oricon charts but didn't register in the Top 100 for the entire year. Despite that, "You're My Life" did earn a slew of awards, including the Gold Prize in the Japan Record Awards for that year. And she got that invitation to the Kohaku Utagassen.

Hibari Misora -- O-Matsuri Mambo (お祭りマンボ)

In Japan, there are simply 2 types of people when it comes to a summer mikoshi (portable shrine) festival: those who carry the mikoshi, and those who watch those who carry the mikoshi. I was invited some years ago by a couple of my students to join in the "fun" of carrying one since I had never done it before. I learned the hard way (which is usually the default way for me) that I should be a watcher not a carrier. Another thing I learned is that veteran mikoshi carriers don't like greenhorns who look like they're not having fun carrying them. Consider me a wiser if sore student of Japanese culture.

Hibari Misora's(美空ひばり) classic "O-Matsuri Mambo" (Festival Mambo) of 1952 was her 9th single. It's another one of those old enka songs for which I remember the melody but not the title nor the original singer. But the other night, NHK's "Kayo Concert" had its customary tribute show to the legendary Misora, and this was one of the songs featured. "O-Matsuri Mambo", written and composed by Rokuro Hara(原六朗), has nothing to do with any Latin American melodies but it does carry the energy of any festival anywhere. And in Japan, they do love their festivals. Misora sings in the raucous patter that a lot of the eager festival participants yell out in, and the song seems to go through the day (or the night) that a festival burns through, until that last verse in which Misora slows down noticeably to signal the exhausted but satisfying end to a wonderfully chaotic time....until at the very end, when she revs it up once more to let everyone know that another day of merriment is on the way.

As with many a Misora song, many artists have given their take on "O-Matsuri Mambo", including AKB 48 at the concert commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the singer's passing. No doubt, as this summer gets underway in Japan, there will probably as many performances of this song as mikoshi rumbling through the streets. I'll be watching.

Sharam Q/Coconuts Musume -- Zurui Onna (ズルイ女)

The first time I saw lead singer Tsunku of the Osaka band Sharam-Q(シャ乱Q) in the mid-1990s, he answered the question "What would a vampire from Shinjuku 2-chome look like?"...ahhh, life was indeed complete. And it was for this song I got to first know the band. I always remember the riffin' horn section for "Zurui Onna" (Cunning Woman) which kinda reminded me what a Big Band might sound like at the end of the century.

"Zurui Onna" was the band's 7th single and its most successful song to date. Written and composed by Tsunku (aka Mitsuo Terada) for release in May 1995, it peaked at No. 2 on Oricon and became the 19th-ranked single of the year with 1.3 million copies sold, and apparently it is the 84th top-selling single in Oricon history. Not surprisingly, Sharam-Q was the top batter for the White team at the Kohaku Utagassen in 1995.

Sharam-Q was first brought together all the way back in 1988 when five Kinki University students pooled their talents. They were the aforementioned Tsunku(つんく)along with Hatake (はたけ...guitar), Makoto (まこと...drums), Taisei (たいせい...keyboards) and Shu (しゅう...bass). All of them came from 3 other bands, and they decided to form the new band's name from an amalgam of those other bands' names: Shutters(シャッターズ), Ram(乱) and QP. The first new name was to have been Sharam-P, but so that they wouldn't be linked with a popular female comedic duo at the time, Okyan-P, the band decided to go with the Q.

For the next few years, they would enjoy life as an amateur band before releasing their first official single in 1992. Then in 1994, they started getting noticed from their 4th single, "Jokyo Monogatari"上・京・物・語) and getting even bigger raves with "Single Bed" later that year. And of course, Tsunku would later become the Svengali who gave birth to Morning Musume and The Hello Project.

One of those groups, the Hawaii-based Coconuts Musume(ココナッツ娘。) would do an English-language cover version of "Zurui Onna" as the coupling song for their 1999 2nd single "Dance & Chance". The single itself got as high as No. 86. Formed in 1998, the starting lineup was Ayaka Kimura, Mika Todd, Danielle Delaunay, Chelsea Ching and April Barbaran.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yuko Ishikawa & Chage -- Futari no Ai Land (ふたりの愛ランド)

Another old Kuri favourite here. I'm not sure about now, but way back when, "Futari no Ai Land"(Loveland for Two) was that cute peppy summer duet song that a lot of folks liked to tackle even before mass quantities were imbibed in the lounge. Cute and peppy.....a bit of a surprise then when I found out that one-half of the original duo behind this cross-cultural pun of a title was Chage(チャゲ)....the quieter partner of Chage & Aska. He's quite a bit more lively here partnering with singer-songwriter Yuko Ishikawa(石川優子).

Chage was responsible for writing and composing "Futari no Ai Land" with Goro Matsui(松井五郎) (who was usually associated with Anzen Chitai) helping out on lyrical duties. Another cross-cultural pun was born within the words here; Chage had wanted to insert the word "coconuts", but someone told him that there were no coconut trees in Okinawa (the song was used for the 1984 JAL Okinawa campaign commercials). Rather obsessed with keeping that coconut in there, Chage somewhat sarcastically (according to J-Wiki) created a rather clever pun by placing the homophonic lyric "Koko natsu" as in "Koko wa natsu"(ここは夏...Here is summer!) Necessity is the mother of invention, indeed.

"Futari no Ai Land" came out in April 1984 and peaked at No. 3. Selling just under 440,000 records, it became the song of the summer for that year. For the entire year, it was the 16th-ranked song.

And here is the aforementioned commercial.

Southern All Stars And All Stars -- Inamura Jane (稲村ジェーン)

I heard the news earlier this morning that after an absence of several years from the studio and the stage, Southern All Stars were roaring back. Their newest single is on the deck for an August 7th release, and so are their concerts from August 10....a triumphant return for their 35th anniversary, especially since leader Keisuke Kuwata(桑田佳介) battled esophageal cancer a few years previously. NHK even took a camera crew into Chigasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture and filmed some very happy citizens proud of their native son.

So on that note...

I wanted to talk about their 10th original album, "Inamura Jane", the soundtrack for the movie of the same title, a movie that had Kuwata debut as a director. I never saw the movie aside from a few scenes on TV, but from what I've heard over the years is that Kuwata's musical contributions to this project have far outlasted his cinematic ones. During my first full year in Gunma, as I witnessed this diversification in Japanese pop music via phenomena such as female rock bands, the mainstream appearance of genres like ska and glam rock, and the budding Shibuya-kei movement, new Southern All Stars music was filtering over the airwaves and through TV commercials. Of course, there was the big theme song and perennial karaoke favourite, "Manatsu no Kajitsu"真夏の果実) and then keyboardist/vocal Yuko Hara's(原由子) relaxing cover of The Mahina Stars' "Aishite Aishite Aishichatta no yo"愛して愛して愛しちゃったのよ). Both of them were official singles by the band.

But the rest of the tracks are also wonderfully summery such as the above "Kibou no Wadachi"希望の轍....Furrow of Wishes), created by Kuwata himself. It kinda comes off as a song version of waking up on a gorgeous morning in the movie's setting of Inamuragasaki and taking that drive down to the beach to catch some waves. The song also got a revival of sorts many years later as it was used as the theme for one segment on the morning news show on Fuji-TV.

There are a couple of other languages represented on the album. For the dramatic title track, "Inamura Jane", Kuwata goes into Spanish, thanks to Luis Sartor's lyrics. He fully goes into growl mode with this one. I also find that Kuwata's melody here also has a tinge of kayo although the sax and electric guitar really tear into the song.

(excerpts only)

Then on the English side, there is Kuwata's cover of The Searchers' "Love Potion No. 9" with a pair of ukeleles. Southern All Stars brought in a lot of famous musicians to help out along with his own band, which explains the seeming redundancy in the title. Takeshi Kobayashi(小林武史) (My Little Lover, Mr. Children) co-produced with Kuwata, and was the co-keyboardist with Hara for most of the tracks, including this one. And even Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)came aboard to provide backup vocals for "Love Potion No. 9".

A few of the tracks also became campaign songs for commercials starting in late 1990. Unfortunately, I forgot which commercial "Ai wa Hana no Yo ni (Ole)"愛は花のように...Love Is Like A Flower) was playing for, but it was a frequent song to be heard on the telly that year and beyond. Again, Luis Sartor provided the lyrics here.

The other song that got recruited for a commercial was "Wasurerareta Big Wave"忘れられたBig Wave....Forgotten Big Wave) for what I think was a job recruitment magazine. It's a beautiful acapella ballad with all of the Southern All Stars participating. I couldn't get the actual song, but I found this great video with one woman doing a cover version with her taking all the parts.

The soundtrack for "Inamura Jane" was a huge hit. Although it was released fairly late in the year in September 1990, it not only hit the No. 1 spot but it quickly became the 2nd-ranked album for that same year with only Yuming's "Love Wars" beating it out as the top album. It sold almost 1.2 million albums, and won the Best Album prize as well as Best Male Vocal in the Rock/Folk category for Kuwata in that year's Japan Gold Disc Awards. But more importantly, the soundtrack isn't just a summery album, but perhaps THE album of summer.

Noriyuki Makihara/Bobby Caldwell -- Answer

Singer-songwriter Noriyuki Makihara's(槇原敬之)debut album was "Kimi ga Warau Toki Kimi no Mune ga Itamanai Yo ni"君が笑うとき、君の胸が痛まないように....So That Your Chest Doesn't Hurt When You Laugh), released in October 1990. I bought it almost a year later on the strength of his breakthrough 3rd single, "Donna Toki mo"どんなときも) which I also got just before heading home to Canada from the JET Programme. To be honest, I haven't heard the album in a long time, but I still remember the first track, a heartrending ballad called "Answer".

Having heard the optimistic and jaunty "Donna Toki mo", I was struck when first listening to "Answer" by the sad piano intro and then Makihara's vocals softly weaving through the melody. The lyrics talk about a bittersweet parting for a couple as they walk toward the subway ticket gate while remembering the wonderful memories over a year. At the end, they make that final embrace before one of them walks through the gate forever. Gets you right here, doesn't it?

(cover version)

"Answer"was also released as Makihara's 2nd single in April 1991. It unfortunately didn't rank in the Oricon Top 100; I could only wonder how it would've done if it had been released after, and not before, "Donna Toki mo". In his appearance in the video above, Makihara mentions that he had created "Answer" just before graduating from high school, so perhaps in a way, it could also fit as a graduation song since there are plenty of tearful partings during that time as well. And take it from me, junior high school graduations can be pretty intense in Japan.

I only found about Bobby Caldwell's cover of "Answer"just when I was searching YouTube for the Makihara original and saw some comments alluding to Caldwell's cover. Caldwell gives his usual sleek and soulful rendition, but his "Answer" is decidedly more uptempo and jazzier. In contrast to Mackey's "lonely guy" approach, I could picture Caldwell in his famous fedora walking along the beach with an Orange Mimosa in his hand.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

EPO -- Sanbanme no Shiawase (三番目の幸せ)

Another Japanese friend of mine was kind enough to give me a taped version of EPO's 10th album, "Poptracks" back in university. The first track of the album is "Sanbanme no Shiawase"(The 3rd Happiness), a happy-go-lucky mid-tempo song about enjoying some solitary time. According to the liner notes in the album, her senpai, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), had taken notice of one of the main lines in the song, "Hitori bocchi wa jiyu de ii wa" (ひとりぼっちは自由でいいわ....Being alone is free which is great), and came up a rebuttal song, "Itsuka"(いつか....Someday) which became the 2nd track. It must've been quite the conversation between the two...would've liked to have given my two pennies on the topic of keeping a solitary life (when pennies existed in Canada). In any case, EPO had written and composed this song for a commercial selling a Kao soap product, which is how I actually found out about it.

EPO's 17th single came out in October 1987. At the time I first heard this song, I didn't realize that it was the same singer behind "U, Fu, Fu, Fu"う、ふ、ふ、ふ), her 1983 hit that I had heard some years before. And as such, I got interested in EPO for the first time....for the second time. "Sanbanme no Shiawase" is just one of those songs that puts me at ease, and I especially enjoy the jazzy acoustic guitar riff during the bridge.

Plastics -- Top Secret Man/Copy

I'm not sure if too many people remember Plastics, the New Wave/Synthpop unit, but in my musically pliable brain in the late 70s and 80s, they invaded my little melon and have kept up permanent residency there all these years. Now, a lot of folks on YouTube have mentioned that they first saw Plastics on the dearly beloved comedy-variety show "SCTV" via "The Tim Ishimuni Show" (guest-starring Godzilla and an in-studio air attack). But for me, I actually first saw them doing their loopy "Top Secret Man"(1980), the band's 2nd single, on a local show on Toronto's first multicultural channel, "Japanese Panorama" a year previously.

For a guy who grew up hearing enka and 70s aidoru, it was quite a revelation to catch these post-punks hiccuping their lyrics, and sounding like a mix between Devo and The B-52s....although I had seen the mesmerizing video for Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Firecracker"on the same show some months before that. Not that the video for "Top Secret Man" is boring at all. I think it was one of the first times I've seen so much imagery stuffed into a music video whose song was less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds. And Ms. Sato certainly made for some nice eye candy. Considering the title, there did seem to be a bit of "Secret Agent Man" in the melody.

Speaking of Ms. Sato, Plastics were Chica Sato (佐藤チカ...vocal), Toshio Nakanishi (中西俊夫...vocal/guitar), Hajime Tachibana (立花ハジメ....guitar), Masahide Sakuma (佐久間正英.....keyboards) and Takemi Shima (島武美....rhythm box). The band first started up in 1976, centered around Sato (a fashion stylist), Nakanishi (an illustrator) and Tachibana (a graphic designer). Initially, starting as a bit of an oldies(!) group, they started changing into a more punk rock/glam rock direction, and with the addition of Sakuma, Plastics veered further into technopop while trying out the rhythm box, something that was inspired from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express"(1977). And in turn, Plastics gave inspiration to bands such as Pizzicato Five and Polysics.

At the end of the same episode of "Japanese Panorama", Plastics made another appearance via a video of their debut single, "Copy"(1979), which was fairly minimalist lyrically. Basically what it amounted to was that everybody copies. I'm not sure if the band was trying to make a statement on Japanese society, but I think I'll stick with the first song.

Kenji Sawada -- Rokubanme no Yu-u-u-tsu (6番目のユ・ウ・ウ・ツ)

Kenji Sawada(沢田研二) made quite the impression on me and on most of the viewing public when he appeared on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen looking like Japan's gift to feather boas and glam rock as he performed his hit, "Stripper". Well, he was selected again for the 1982 show, and although he didn't come out looking quite as wild as the year before, he still made for an arresting figure on the stage with his band, Exotics. This time, he underwent conversion to become a New Wave Man.

His new song, "Rokubanme no Yu-u-u-tsu" (The Sixth Melancholy) also took on that New Wave sheen with techno mixed into the rock, as Sawada sang it like a disaffected fellow bored with life. With lyrics by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子) and melody by Exotics keyboardist Akira Nishihira(西平彰), the title was derived from that fellow being fully sated with the first five elements of clothing, food, shelter, money and women, only to hit the 6th element of ennui or dissatisfaction. He felt like a prisoner in his paradise and just wanted to escape from everything....including love.

Julie's 37th single was released in September 1982 and peaked at No. 6 on Oricon. Within a few months, it earned itself a place on the Top 100 of the year at No. 57. It sold 250,000 records and won the Gold Prize at the Japan Record Awards.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Top 10 Singles of 1995

1.  Dreams Come True                      Love, Love, Love
2.  H Jungle With T                           Wow War Tonight
3.  Masaharu Fukuyama                    Hello
4.  Mr. Children                                Tomorrow Never Knows
5.  Mr. Children                                Seesaw Game
6.  My Little Lover                           Hello Again
7.  Keisuke Kuwata and Mr. Children    Kiseki no Chikyu
8.  Mayo Okamoto                            Tomorrow
9.  Spitz                                          Robinson
10. B'z                                            Love Phantom

Dreams Come True had the big one with "Love Love Love", which was the biggest hit of the band's career, but it was quite the year for Mr. Children in the middle of the pack (after scoring the No. 1 single of 1994), especially teaming up with the leader of Southern All Stars for one tune. B'z may have been in the cleanup position but Inaba and Matsumoto had quite a few more hits in the Top 50, and to be honest, "Love Phantom" is my favourite song of this group.

Aside from Mayo Okamoto and Masaharu Fukuyama, it was a Band Boom of sorts for 1995 with a pretty guitar-heavy lineup. Buskers were probably quite a proud lot that year. I was personally no fan of "Wow War Tonight" with Tetsuya Komuro and Masatoshi Hamada (one-half of the popular comedic duo, Downtown), but their collaboration was quite the popular one during those post-year-end party karaoke sessions.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tomoyo Harada -- Romance (ロマンス)

Y'know, I knew a little about Tomoyo Harada's(原田知世) time as an 80s aidoru, and somewhere in my ancient tape collection, there are about 4 or 5 songs by her. But, by and large, as the years passed, I only got to know her more as a pitchperson on commercials, especially for instant coffee (Blendy, if you wanna know) and to a smaller extent, as a tarento on some of the variety shows.

But then, I heard this song, "Romance" by her, which was about as far away from anything aidoru she did as those teenage days themselves. It was a 1997 cover of a song by Swedish singer Ulf Turesson who composed the song, with Harada providing the lyrics for the Japanese version. And the arrangements was by Tore Johansson who has produced bands such as The Cardigans, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and also a number of other Japanese artists like Bonnie Pink, Mimori Yusa, and Ayano Tsuji.

"Romance" has this Swinging 60s sound which reminded me of some of the music that The Style Council did in the 80s, and the eternal Tom Jones sang when I was but a very wee lad. When the song hit the charts after its release in January 1997, I was pretty delighted at hearing a Japanese singer trilling away at this summery, devil-may-care tune....especially in the dead of winter. To be honest, the Shibuya-kei label I gave is just from me, but listening to "Romance", I just felt that it could be something that Pizzicato Five or Flipper's Guitar could have tackled. Shibuya-kei has been a genre which strikes me as being a musical calling card to travel to Europe, and this song can be considered to be an invitation. By the way, it managed to peak at No. 39.

And the above is the Ulf Turesson original.

Tomoyo Harada -- Romance

Sumiko Yamagata -- Peppermint Morning (ペッパーミント・モーニング)

(cover version)

Going along with the theme of the arrival of summer, I've decided to go with this quiet breezy number from Folk/New Music singer Sumiko Yamagata(やまがたすみこ). "Peppermint Morning", as the title suggests, has that refreshing AM feeling as Yamagata sings about getting up on a Sunday morning in Tokyo. I can almost hear that coffee brewing in the kitchen. It is the first track on Yamagata's "Flying", her foray into a more adult contemporary vein, released in July 1977. The song was written by Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆) and composed by Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂). Compared to the one official single from the album, "Moonlight Jitterbug", "Peppermint Morning" is a bit more laid-back, and in a way, with Yamagata's vocals and the arrangements, it sounds even a bit 80s aidoru-ish. Perhaps a bit ahead of its time?

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Kokiatsu Girl (高気圧ガール)

Summer officially entered our fair city at 1:04 a.m. this morning. And right now, we've got a sunny day out there with a temperature of 26 degrees C with a bit of mugginess. In other words, a good start to the season. What better way in the J-Pop world to celebrate it than with a Tatsuro song? "Kokiatsu Girl" (High-Pressure Girl) is just the thing.

I realize that Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎) brought us "Christmas Eve" in a small fit of pique since we fans had always thought of him as "the summer song guy". But when a song as fun and summery as "Kokiatsu Girl" hits our ears, what are we to do? Think frostbite and icicles? Hell, no! Right from the rapid acapella scat intro to the audio equivalent of a tropical island fly-by, the song can only make us make those reservations for Honolulu and hit the waves.

Or, perhaps I should say Okinawa since Tats' 10th single was used as the campaign tune for ANA Okinawa when it was released in April 1983. I could imagine that the company may have gotten rather busy once the commercials got out. If you listen carefully, you can also hear Mrs. Yamashita (aka Mariya Takeuchi...竹内まりや) contribute a bit of her vocals although at the time she was in the middle of a long break from singing. "Kokiatsu Girl" made it as high as No. 17 on Oricon, and was also a track on Yamashita's 7th album, "Melodies", released in June 1983.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mariko Takahashi -- Koi Suru Hitomi (恋する瞳)

(excerpt only)

Mariko Takahashi's(高橋真梨子) 14th single, "Koi Suru Hitomi"(Loving Eyes) was the first track on a 1988 compilation of her hits that I got pretty early in my time in Gunma Prefecture. The single itself had been released in July of that year, so most likely the compilation album was the first one to have the song included. It's a nice song to start off a list of her greatest. The above link by the way is just the karaoke version without anyone singing it since the original video got taken down.

(Another karaoke version but with a good voice behind it.)

The song was written by Chinfa Kan(康珍化), who was also responsible for a number of songs by Anri and Omega Tribe among others in the 1980s, and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロ), who created tunes for just about everybody in Japanese pop music. When I first heard this number by Takahashi, I was struck by the American country feel that came in the intro and wove in and out throughout it, although the electric guitar in there also reminded me of some of the more introspective 80s pop songs from the US. But then again, I think Takahashi has always enjoyed a bit of that country lilt (and jazz) in a number of her past songs such as "Namida Moroi Peggy"涙もろいペギー....Tearful Peggy)since she launched her solo career in the late 70s. I can probably put her up with early Mariya Takeuchi(竹内まりや)as the two singers who often dipped into the styles of the Great American Songbook.

Mariko Takahashi

GARO/Rie Asakura -- Kimi no Tanjoubi (君の誕生日)

This is a song that I just came across by the 70s folk group, GARO, and enjoyed. I knew the band only for their 3rd single and big hit, "Gakusei Gai no Kissaten"学生街の喫茶店), a song that sounded somewhere between a tango and a waltz at points. "Kimi no Tanjoubi"(Your Birthday) is on the more melancholy side; it deals with a guy and a girl celebrating the latter's birthday...which just happens to be the day that she broke up with him. And then the guy has to face those memories again once her birthday approaches. Released in May 1973, it was created by the same pair behind "Gakusei Gai no Kissaten": Michio Yamagami and Koichi Sugiyama(山上路夫・すぎやまこういち). For a folk song, it still has that something I call "string sophistication"....which reminds me of European music. Composer Sugiyama also seems to throw in a bit from GARO's biggest hit in the middle. The band's 5th single hit the top spot on Oricon and was the 12th-ranked song of the year. It was also a track on their 4th album, "GARO LIVE"(1973).

Rie Asakura(朝倉理恵) was a Tokyo-born actress and singer who started her career in her teens with a chorus group known as The Singing Angels before going solo under the name of Taeko Sakurai(桜井妙子). During that time, she sang a number of anime themes and commercial jingles in the early 70s. Then, when she passed an audition in 1972 with (the now) Sony Music Entertainment, she reverted to her real name and started singing pop songs for the remainder of the decade. Her version of "Kimi no Tanjoubi" was never released as an official single but was included on her debut album, "Ano Basho Kara"あの場所から...From That Place), released in July 1973. Incidentally, she also did a cover of GARO's "Gakusei Gai no Kissaten".

TUBE -- Beach Time

Well, with Summer 2013 on our doorstep, it's time to open things up with a TUBE song. I have to say, though, that "Beach Time", TUBE's 7th single, isn't quite up on the same level as "Season In The Sun" or "Summer Dream", but it still has that wonderful feeling of Maeda, the 80s and the hot season. Written by singer-songwriter Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子)and composed by Tetsuro Oda(織田哲郎), it was released in April 1988 and went as high as No. 4 on Oricon. I did see TUBE perform that very song on a number of "Best 10" and "Top 10" shows, but I think at Kuri, the other two big hits that I mentioned were the go-to TUBE songs for karaoke.

Pink Sapphire -- P.S. I Love You

In terms of Japanese all-girl bands during my time in Gunma, I have to admit that my allegiances were slightly torn between Princess Princess and Pink Sapphire. When I first touched down, the former was the one that was all the rage all over the country, including the two schools that I was teaching at. Heck, "Diamonds" quickly became the go-to song to be played at the school sports festivals.

But then, out of nowhere, I just saw this video for another female rock band with this really hot lead singer (aw, hell, they were all hot). And they were Pink Sapphire, a band that had its heyday in the early to mid-90s. That singer was Ayako (Aya) Tsukada(塚田彩湖), and when they debuted, she was joined by bassist Miki Ishida(石田美紀), guitarist Takako (Taka) Suzuki(鈴木孝子) and drummer Harumi Kikuno(菊野晴泉). The name for the band came about from Harumi's favourite colour and the decision to go with a birthstone as the second name. Sapphire sounded the coolest, so they went with that (apparently, diamond came in 2nd). Pink Sapphire had its genesis from the Band Boom of the late 80s, and had its very first appearance on the representative TV show of the musical trend, "Ikasu Band Tengoku"イカすバンド天国)back in May 1989 although Aya and Taka were not involved at that time.

The video I saw was the one for their debut, "P.S. I Love You", released in July 1990. I think as much as "Diamonds" by Princess Princess was one of the theme songs for my 2 years in Japan at that time, this song could also be included. Written by bassist Ishida and composed by Takashi Oji(小路隆), the song was also made the theme song for one of those Fuji-TV Monday-at-9 trendy dramas, "Kimochi Ii Koi Shitai!"キモチいい恋をしたい!Aya's vocals seemed to be soaring above the layer of electric guitar ripping like a hang glider on steroids, and it certainly sounded like everyone was having a grand ol' time recording it.

"P.S. I Love You" peaked at No. 2 and was the most successful of their 8 singles. They also released 8 albums until their breakup in 1995. However, just a few months ago, Aya and Taka got on the stage of a Tokyo dining bar for the first time in 20 years to perform the hit that launched Pink Sapphire. Since the get-together was a very hastily planned event, Miki and Harumi couldn't actually perform with their old bandmates, but they were there at the bar as well, and apparently the members and fans greatly enjoyed each other's company.

Pink Sapphire

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Naoko Kawai -- Moonlight Kiss (ムーンライト・キッス)

(karaoke version)

 Naoko Kawai's(河合奈保子) 6th single, "Moonlight Kiss" is the one that came right after "Smile For Me", the song that first introduced the aidoru to me on the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen. Released in September of that year, it's a jaunty number notable for the introductory English words, "Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't you know..."and Kawai with her kawaii castanets. And the melody that accompanies those first words seems to have been copied note for note by the theme of an anime that I used to watch.

"Moonlight Kiss", written by Reiji Matsumoto(松本礼児), not that Leiji Matsumoto who came up with the idea of a space-faring Japanese battleship....and composed by Koji Makaino(馬飼野康二) managed to get as high as No. 11 on Oricon and was the 95th-ranked song of the year. Remembering back to her appearance as the top batter on that Kohaku, in retrospect, I just thought she out-aidoru'ed even Seiko-chan in that bright dress, hairdo and snaggle-toothed smile. And in one of my earlier postings for her, I mentioned that she had been performing hurt after falling 4 metres through a stage lift while rehearsing for another NHK music show back in October. Well, it was for "Moonlight Kiss" that she ended up injuring her lower back. Just remembering how she was bouncing about on the New Year's Eve special, I thought she was the kayo kyoku equivalent of a hockey player playing through the pain in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hey, what can I say? She's an Osakan, after all!

courtesy of
from Flickr

Ringo Shiina -- Honno (本能)


Yup, that will be the image I will always have of Ringo. Not as the scowling junior high school student or as the saucy yukata-garbed girl or even as the nude singer making love to her guitar, but as THAT nurse.

"Honno"(Instinct) is Ringo Shiina's(椎名林檎) most successful song to date. Her 4th single was released in October 1999, and it starts off with this foreboding buzz before the crashing of drums and Ringo's vocoder voice, launching like a chainsaw. What I have loved about "Honno" is the way she brings her vocals down to a more sensual, velvety level while still trilling those thrilling R's, and that twangy guitar before she goes into the refrain.

But of course, the talk of the town was the cover of the single and the music video (too bad it's nowhere to be found online). I think that cover of her punching through the candy glass has become somewhat of an icon, and I did see the video in pieces before catching it in its entirety some weeks after the single's release. Ringo probably made the whole lot of cosplayers ecstatic in one fell swoop in that nurse outfit, the terrifying heels and the blood-red lipstick. As for that racy scene of her having her way with a female patient, that patient happened to be her buddy who was attending university at the time. After seeing that video, I judged that Shiina was someone who would be making headlines musically and visually from now on.

"Honno"peaked at No. 2 and became the 40th-ranked song of 1999, and even in 2000, it still made it up to No. 49 by the end of the year. In total, it sold about a million copies.

Just for a bit of contrast, here is the jazz version of "Honno".

Ringo Shiina -- Honno

Hiroshi Sato feat. Wendy Matthews -- Awakening

Well, first off, I'd like to give my tribute to Revenue Canada for providing the tax refund that made my mini-splurge on 3 Japanese discs possible. Yep, I did a bit of shopping online and got myself Minako Yoshida's "Twilight Zone"(1977), "Loft Sessions Vol. 1"(1978), and musician Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博) "Awakening"(1982). I've listened to each of the discs twice, and I think at this point, the one that has gotten the majority of my attention is "Awakening".

My three choices came from the book "Japanese City Pop", and Sato's magnum opus was especially recommended by singer-songwriter-producer Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)through an interview given in the book. I gotta say that I gotta go with Kadomatsu. It's the musical equivalent of a really smooth brandy.

After a short instrumental introductory track, "Awakening" starts the ball rolling with "You're My Baby"(above) with him and Canadian-born, Australian singer Wendy Matthews giving this dreamy ballad covered in soft wool. Continuing on with the alcohol analogy, I always see these connoisseurs come with these high-falutin' descriptions of the wine they've just tasted that bring out references to stuff like strawberries, chocolate and sandalwood. Well, listening to Sato's 4th album (June 1982), I have to admit that the same sort of thing is happening here. Sato was apparently influenced by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, but "Awakening" gives off vibes from a number of singers, some of whom figure prominently in AOR. "You're My Baby" alone hints at a bit of Gino Vannelli and Boz Scaggs, in terms of the vocals and arrangements. And sometimes I can pick up a bit of YMO's Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏) as well from Sato, along with some Chaz Jankel (keyboardist with Ian Dury & The Blockheads).

But Track 6 is a jawdropper. Sato does give his tribute to The Beatles via "From Me To You", but the way he does it is by singing like British pop singer Howard Jones....over a year before the man himself debuted with "New Song"! I actually had to scour through the liner notes just to see if Jones had indeed performed a really early tune in there.

Another notable song is "Blue and Moody Music", another relaxing ballad with that hint of jazz, thanks to Sato's prowess on the keyboards. Nice song to enjoy with that glass of wine during sunset. However, I think I prefer the second, more uptempo version of the song at the end of the album with Wendy providing the main vocals. Above is the Wendy version and below is the original have-a-sip-of-wine-my-darlin' version.

The Kagoshima-born, Kyoto-raised Sato worked with and received accolades from some of the most famous figures in Japanese popular music, with Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎), according to the write up on Sato in J-Wiki, stating in the liner notes of his re-release of the album "Spacy" that he was Japan's best pianist. Kadomatsu mentioned in a 1995 issue of "Music Magazine" that his piano playing was a Japanese treasure, and even Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣) invited him to join YMO, although Sato opted to go across the Pacific to the United States to work in music there in 1979 for a few years.

And the above is "Only A Love Affair", another collaboration between Wendy and Hiroshi.

Sadly, Sato passed away late last year at the age of 65. I've only started to explore one of his albums but I have a feeling that "Awakening" may be one of those discs that will amount to a musical version of "The Little Prince"; each time I listen to it, there will always be something new  to my awakening of sorts.

I've got a follow-up on the album here.

Hiroshi Sato -- Awakening

Monday, June 17, 2013

Junko Ohashi & Minowa Central Station -- Beautiful Me (ビューティフル・ミー)

"Beautiful Me" by the beautiful voice of Junko Ohashi(大橋純子). I came across this song, released in June 1979, on the BEST compilation disc of her that I had bought some years ago. As far as I know, it didn't become a huge hit like "Tasogare My Love"たそがれマイ・ラブ) or "Silhouette Romance"シルエット・ロマンス), but the Keisuke Yamakawa-Ken Sato(山川啓介・佐藤健) penned song just has this golden-hued aura of a late 70s ballad. The song also became part of Ohashi's 7th original album, "Full House", also released in that month.

It was a good year for Ohashi. She married her composer Sato and "Beautiful Me"was her ticket onto her first appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen.

Kami Fusen -- Fuyu ga Kuru Mae ni (冬が来る前に)


The early 70s folk group, Akai Tori(赤い鳥), who had their biggest hit with "Tsubasa wo Kudasai"翼をください), broke up in 1974 with two new groups being formed from amongst its members. One of those groups, led by vocal/guitarist Junko Yamamoto(山本潤子), became the pop vocal group Hi-Fi Set, while Akai Tori guitarist Etsujiro Goto(後藤悦治郎) and vocal/pianist Yasuyo Hirayama(平山泰代) became personal and professional partners with the latter formation being dubbed Kami Fusen (紙ふうせん...Paper Balloon).

Kami Fusen debuted in 1974 with "Ikatsuri Uta"いかつり唄....Squid Fishing Song), but the duo's biggest hit was their 5th single, "Fuyu ga Kuru Mae ni"(Before The Winter Comes), released in November 1977. Although it's been labeled as a folk song, especially with that pretty intro, it's also got quite a bit of pop muscle in it as well with that electric guitar and that urgent rhythm section, thanks to composer Tada (?) Urano(浦野直). Goto's lyrics, delivered by Hirayama, talk of that departed lover who cannot be forgotten.

"Fuyu ga Kuru Mae ni" had actually been created near the end of 1976, but over the year, the concert reaction to it was very positive so the decision was made to release it as a single. Good choice, as it peaked at No. 4 in 1978 and eventually became the 27th-ranked single of that year. Since then, it's been covered by Akina Nakamori(中森明菜) and members of Hello Project. And not surprisingly, like the aforementioned "Tsubasa wo Kudasai", the song has also become a mainstay for those high school choral groups and music classes.